After seemingly unsuccessful calls by literary critics for book publishing in African languages, there’s been notably a growing evidence in the production of literature in various indigenous tongues across the continent
As internationally acclaimed Kenyan novelist, Prof. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o recently observed, the problem however, is that those that choose to heed this important call remain invisible, with their work hardly ever reviewed or translated. “So writers in African languages are writing against great odds: no publishing houses, no state support, and with national and international forces aligned against them. Prizes are often given to promote African literature but on the condition that the writers don’t write in African languages,” notes the self professed “language worrier” in an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books last year (2017).
The power of learning in your home tongue
In this latest attemp by one feisty South African woman, first time fiction author Dimakatso Mookodi’s main attempt was focused on another important aspect in African literature; the need for the production of children books in African languages. Her argument is that if children learn to read and express themselves in their mother tongue, it will become easier for them to transition to other ‘secondary’ languages, in this case English.
With that in mind, one can also hope that her work will provide more visibility for writing in African languages in South Africa – while highlighting the importance of indigenous language promotion and its constructive role in the preservation of national culture, heritage and identity.
Molemi yo o Bidiwang Aganang is originally written in Setswana and translated in nine official South African languages. The book places its characters in relatable situations where grandparents show children how to realize their full potential in reaching their dreams, while tapping into their innermost even in unpleasant situations.
I realized while I was working in radio translations that there is a generation that is losing touch with their mother tongue
Aganang – the book’s central character – is an attention seeking but quite inquisitive child preferring to spend time with his grandfather in the farm, before the morning sun. His occasional drive to the farm with his grandfather pleases him the most. He learns how to work the land, feed animals and take care of the crops. His grandmother is an affectionate and a disciplinarian who takes care of the house. She’s a typical three-dimensional woman who imparts wisdom to her grandson that he will find useful even long after she’s gone.
Mookodi came up with the idea of writing a Setswana children book after the birth of her son, Rorisang. “I realized while I was working in radio translations that there is a generation that is losing touch with their mother tongue. We struggled with children reading for vernacular radio auditions, even those who can speak it from the township based schools are struggling to read – this maybe because there aren’t enough books to read for leisure. For me personally it was an alarming thought that one day this could be my son – if I don’t do something about his upbringing and instilling in him the appreciation of my language.”
Mookodi adds. “I realized that it’s important to preserve and pass the beautiful language of Setswana to my son, and this is exactly what this book and many more that I plan to write and publish, hopes to achieve.”
Practical lessons for parents and children alike
Parents struggling to find ways to connect with their children in their mother tongue will find this book as a handy resource, which will help them polish their language skills. Their young ones, on the other hand, will be inspired to learn to express themselves freely in their mother tongue through reading and brain stimulation.
“I want children to be delighted when they pronounce syllables in their mother tongue and unlike other children’s literature that is out there. This book is written with ease and colourful characters that any child will find easy to relate to and understand,” she stresses.
The book, in a nutshell, explores the essence of obedience. Furthermore, it provides practical lessons to parents in their quest to pursuing stable homes that represent who they are as Africans. It is available and distributed by Peo Literature, a publishing company owned by Mookodi. The books are also available at Xarra Book and speciality children’s book stores, Toys With Roots and Ethnikids.